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Updated: Nov 10, 2019

Gary Clarke Company

Grand Theatre, Blackpool

November 8, 2019; 85min, no interval

Wasteland. All pictures: Joe Armitage

Interpreting modern history in movement and dance might seem a specialist subject for theatre, but choreographer Gary Clarke once again proves it can be a thrilling and widely-accessible take on the art form.

He returns to the ravaged community of Grimethorpe, near Barnsley, for the second of his dance dramas dedicated to the Yorkshire pit village’s fate following the miners’ strike of the 1980s.

His first production, Coal – seen here in 2017 – focused on the damage to community spirit and its toll on the miners themselves. Wasteland imagines what happened to some of the next generation – the teenagers left abandoned by the loss of industry, jobs and hope.

Some, it suggests, found solace of sorts in the illicit rave culture of the early 90s, where the agony was danced away in Ecstasy-fuelled delirium in the derelict warehouses of a post-industrial landscape. It might seem a fanciful notion that social change would be brought about through music and dance, but it’s worth remembering that in Berlin, rave culture played a significant part in the collapse of the city’s East-West division, the fall of the wall.

Not that Wasteland ever gets quite so political. Instead its middle section becomes a gloriously joyful rendering of a moment when youth culture briefly created a new community. Clarke achieves it through turning the apparently random dance actions into choreographed couplets and other units of joined movement. It’s a sonic and visual assault that draws appreciative interaction from the audience, with hoots and clapping.

It might have been helpful to actually hear the single speech, delivered over a megaphone, above the house music, but that has to be a minor quibble.

Besides the raucous energy of the six dancers the production also, like Coal, draws on the involvement of brass band music, using two performers from Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band, and four locally-recruited Pitmen Singers.

After this second helping you have to hope Gary Clarke is set on a further history lesson.


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